Jason Rowland's art is instantly recognizable - not because he doesn't have contemporaries, but because the subjects that he chooses to modify to create this fine art are very familiar.
Take his piece, "Skeet Skeet Skeet," for example. The striped glove of Spider-Man is fairly recognizable while the thick, bold words around it not only give it a modern-slang twist, but make a children's comic book hero into something humorous and raunchy.
Rowland, who hails from Winona Lake, has been exhibiting his artwork professionally for 10 years. It is not his full-time job, as one can come to expect with many Midwest-based artists. During the day Rowland manages a car wash in Syracuse with his father.
Sometimes it takes a commonplace thing like a day job to produce exemplary art.
"I get bored easily and have to change things up frequently," he says. "I think that is one of the benefits to being an artist with a day job: I don't always have to stick with what goes over and what sells. I am free to make the things I like. If other people like it, that is a bonus. If they like it enough to take it home, that means everything."
In the last four years, Rowland's art has become a second career that requires a good chunk of his time. He spends a lot of that time at the library in Warsaw.
According to Rowland, "Someone who works there keeps the comic section really full and it's great!"
Going through the comics page by page can easily spark an idea, even for someone who comes back time after time. Paper and a rough sketch begin the process when something specific yet familiar sparks an idea, or a hero's facial expression is just too interesting to pass up. Then the decision on size is made. Rowland constructs his own panels and frames so he can control the quality of the finished work, in a way producing a multimedia presentation.
When first viewing Rowland's art, one can't help but think of the term "pop culture," as the subjects are highly identifiable.
"I pick the subject matter for my pieces depending on what jumps into my head at the time," he says. "I get influenced by pop culture, familiar logos, comic books, etc."
To create these pop culture mash-ups, Rowland first draws his images in order to hand cut each one out as a stencil to finally spray paint the final product.
Rowland draws each section to size on poster board and cuts the layers out, the most time-consuming process in creating his art. He then spray paints each layer, color over color, until the final image is achieved. Lastly, a clear epoxy resin is applied for "a melted glass look."
Everything Rowland does is by hand, though his pieces look like they are copied straight from something like The Invincible Iron Man #53: The Living Volcano.
"I would love to learn to work digitally, but I never have any time to take a class or sit down and learn the software. Between family, work and art commitments, I am spread pretty thin."
You can find a good example of Rowland's talent in his piece entitled "Lucy." At first glance, the piece looks simple, but look closer and you can find much more detail. Lucy's hair is made up of drops of liquid, and the absence of pupils make the face look eerie. The addition of what one can assume to be tattoos (a cross, spider webs, two teardrops under the eye) add a punk rock element. The teardrop tattoos also play off the real teardrops pooling in and around her eyes. This all tells you more about Lucy than you might first have thought, all within a single snapshot of a comic book belle. Something so simple can indeed make the viewer think about how things can be so much more complicated.
Living in the rural Midwest, people might get the idea that living here can hinder an art career. However, with the addition of social media and the internet, everything is now easily connected. Rowland enjoys the "unlimited networking [that] can be done and ideas [that] can be shared instantly."
In Winona Lake, Rowland is not more than three hours from Fort Wayne, South Bend, Indianapolis and Chicago and less than four from Detroit.
"It's all right here; you just have to make something people want, be willing to drive and most importantly; show up on time."
Rowland's influences include Jim Phillips, a graphic designer for Santa Cruz Skateboards in the 80s and 90s, and, more recently, Eric Clement, Steve Seeley and Joseph "Sentrock" Perez.
"All three have a crazy hard work ethic. They're always pushing themselves and constantly creating new work. Seeley and Clement work in a similar subject matter as I do, and they're always making things that make me say, 'Why didn't I think of that?'" he explains.
All these artists do have a similar style, and some of their work could very easily pass as Rowland's.
There is a difference, however. Rowland's pieces are bolder, as if the comic books they were inspired by were meant to be 30 feet tall, or the band's T-shirts the logos were taken from just came out of the box at the tour stop. They're a little more in your face, especially when viewing a large wood cutout of a stark, colorful face contrasting with a brick or white wall.
To see Rowland's work in person, you can visit Galerie F in Chicago, the Fort Wayne Museum of Art's Paradigm Gallery, Jennifer Ford Art, Pure Eatery in Fountain Square Indianapolis.
Rowland has a new exhibit opening for February's First Friday Art Walk in Indianapolis at New Day Craft.